Tony Arefin – graphic designer to the YBAs

An upcoming exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery will look at the work of Tony Arefin – the go-to graphic designer for the Young British Artist movement in the late ‘80s and ‘90s.

Exhibition catalogue for Adrian Piper at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (1991)
Exhibition catalogue for Adrian Piper at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (1991)

Born Abed Mohammed Arefi in Pakistan in 1962, Arefin moved to London with his family in the 1970s.

He worked as a picture editor and design assistant at several London magazines, and was also curator at the Photographers’ Gallery, where he organised an exhibition of Neville Brody’s work on The Face.

Press advert for Institute of Contemporary Arts (1991)
Press advert for Institute of Contemporary Arts (1991)

Arefin’s own work then took in art direction for Frieze magazine and catalogues for 1988’s legendary Freeze show – featuring work by future YBAs such as Damien Hirst, Angus Fairhurst and Sarah Lucas.

By the 1990s, Arefin (who often adopted the working name Arefin & Arefin) had achieved such dominance in the art world that Rick Poynor said he was ‘single-handedly processing the print needs of the entire British art scene’.

Exhibition catalogue for Gordon at the Tramway, Glasgow, 1993
Exhibition catalogue for Gordon at the Tramway, Glasgow, 1993

In 1993 he moved to New York to work as creative director of I.D. magazine, before spells at Wieden & Kennedy in Portland and Ogilvy & Mather. He died in 2000 at the age of 38.

Ikon’s exhibition will feature editorial design work such as Bomb and Blind Spot magazines, exhibition catalogues and press campaigns.

Bomb magazine, winter 1996
Bomb magazine, winter 1996, designed by Miranda Dempster with art direction by Tony Arefin

As the exhibition notes say, ‘Arefin’s work brought a refreshing directness, in stark contrast to the surprisingly conservative applications of graphic design in much art publishing.’

Arefin & Arefin: The Graphic Design of Tony Arefin is at Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Birmingham B1 from 12 September-4 November.

Blind Spot magazine, issue eight (1996)

Source: Blind Spot

Blind Spot magazine, issue eight (1996)

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